Tourism numbers took a dip in March, but through the first half of the fiscal year they are remarkably on target.
Bed tax collections dropped 34 percent in March compared to the prior March, but the Gulf County Tourist Development Council is sitting about where its budget had predicted.
Part of that is foresight and part is stronger than expected visitation.
Hurricane Michael arrived last October, the first month of the fiscal but also time enough for the TDC board to adjust downward revenue numbers.
The board and Board of County Commissioners approved slicing about half from the original projection of $2 million.
And now, six months into the fiscal year the TDC has collected just under $460,000 in bed taxes, just shy of budget.
And as for visitor numbers, a deficit of 22 percent in bed tax collections compared to the prior year, given the deficiency of lodging inventory in the months immediately after the storm can be seen in a favorable light.
Particularly when considering the prior fiscal year was a record-shattering, revenue-wise.
“I think there were a couple of things,” said TDC executive director Kelli Godwin, who noted the 34 percent drop followed months of declines of just 7 percent and 11 percent compared to prior years.
“We were way up last year compared to the prior year, 38 percent after March had not changed much for several years. So that would be hard to meet. Also, I think we are starting to see (the impacts from loss of inventory).”
Further, Godwin noted that late March is typically a bit on the slow side and that a pair of Spring Breaks (from Michigan for one) included check-ins on the last days of March; that revenue will not show up until April numbers.
As for inventory, Godwin said it was difficult to pin down how much pre-storm inventory will return until later in the summer.
In addition, a significant amount of new construction has translated into many long-term rentals becoming short-term to accommodate construction workers.
“We’re thinking conservatively we are at 50 percent right now,” Godwin said. “By June and July we should start to get a better idea.”
To improve the numbers, the TDC is embarking on its last marketing campaigns funded via a $250,000 grant from Visit Florida.
Over the next two months, one social media campaign will revolve around “Design by Nature” and urging visitors to partner with residents in conserving the area’s natural resources.
There will be a heavier emphasis, she added, on Leave No Trace education.
“We want them to partner with us to help us keep this area natural and beautiful,” Godwin said.
This month there will also be a “pet” photo contest.
One part of the campaign will be filming Adrianna Glass of the TDC as she and her dog travel the county, with an emphasis on the county’s Leave No Trace and leash laws.
And, another aspect will be soliciting photos or videos from visitors or residents with their pets on an “adventure” out of doors.
“We have a lot of people who love their pets,” Godwin said.